Conspiratoria - the Internet and the Logic of Conspiracy Theory
Ballinger, D. R. (2011). Conspiratoria - the Internet and the Logic of Conspiracy Theory (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/5786
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/5786
This thesis is a theoretical investigation of the relationships between the logic of conspiracy theory and the Internet. It argues that the Internet can be conceptualised as a technocultural space conducive to the development of conspiracy belief and practice. Critical discourses regarding the relationships between mainstream media and the Internet are discussed as constituting the main points of connection between conspiracy theory and the Internet. With reference to radical discourses of media power, the study first considers conspiracy theorist’s conceptions of mainstream media as a site of conspiratorial control, and their configuration of the Internet as a medium which operates as a countervailing influence to mainstream media power. The study then considers cyber-cultural discourses, such as those of the second media age, that articulate the Internet as a site of democratic empowerment, and how these resonate with the democratic ideas that, in distorted forms, constitute key aspects of conspiracist belief. These two major discursive themes – the Internet as a counteractive force to mainstream media power, and the Internet as a site of democratic empowerment – are then discussed as forming the basis for radical configurations of the Internet as an alternative medium. The study then shifts into an examination of the Internet’s configuration as an alternative public sphere, and argues that this configuration constitutes the most significant point of connection between the Internet and the logic of conspiracy theory as the alternative principles of opposition to mainstream media and radical democratic activity correspond to central ideas of conspiracist thought. This argument is developed further through a discussion of alternative news practices, and the ways in which conspiracy theorists appropriate such practices as a means of legitimating their extremist beliefs within the alternative public sphere. A case study of the conspiracy news site Rense.com is then presented as an illustration of this appropriation-legitimation dynamic in action. The study concludes by arguing that the Internet does constitute a ‘conspiratorium’ for conspiracy theorists in relation to the ideas outlined above, and that conspiracy theory can – ironically – be seen as a major embodiment of the dominant technologically deterministic discourses that articulate the Internet as a ‘revolutionary’ technology. The arguments presented in this study are developed with reference to direct examples of online conspiracy theory beliefs and practices. Major theoretical bases for the study include the work of Atton (2004) on alternative media; Curran’s (2002) discussions of media power; Holmes’ (2005) and Mosco’s (2004) overviews of the cyber-utopian perspectives that have shaped the development of the Internet; and Keane’s (1991) work on the media and democracy.
University of Waikato
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